With a plethora of important games in week 12 of the college football season it would have been easy to overlook Michigan State’s Senior Day game against the last-place team in their conference — Indiana.
Coach Mark Dantonio and Kirk Cousins show off the Big Ten Legends division trophy (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
But as far as Big Ten implications go, no game could have been more important.
Michigan State stood in first place in the Legends division with a one-game lead over Michigan and Nebraska, putting themselves in the driver seat with two games to go in the season. In the first of those two, the Spartans put the pedal down and never looked in the rear-view mirror beating Indiana 55-3. By the day’s end, State had clinched the Big Ten Legends division with Michigan’s win over Nebraska.
“This signifies where we wanted to get to, to be able to get to where we want to go, if that makes any sense.” Coach Mark Dantonio said during his postgame press conference. “The journey is not done. This is exciting, but we still need to finish next week. This is nice to get this before the season ends – it takes a little pressure off of us I guess.”
Here’s how today’s game unfolded that sealed State’s fate as the Legends’ division champions:
After forcing an Indiana punt on the first drive of the game, the Spartans took over, marching down the field to the Indiana 4 yd-line. But State couldn’t get in the end zone in three attempts and settled for a Dan Conroy field goal.
B.J. Cunningham (3) and Edwin Baker (4) celebrate together after Cunningham's 63-yd. touchdown catch. (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
Following another forced punt, Michigan State refused to settle on their next offensive possession.
Just three plays after getting the ball, quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with B.J. Cunningham for a 63 yd touchdown, putting the Spartans up 10-0.
From there Michigan State scored another touchdown, this time Cousins to Keshawn Martin, before the end of the 1st quarter.
Things didn’t change in the 2nd as State came out and scored again on a Martin rushing play, and then again on a 10-yd Edwin Baker run.
The Spartans converted on another Conroy field goal before the end of the half and the score at the break was 34-3.
At halftime Cousins was 13 of 19 for 241 yds., 2 touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. As a unit, MSU had run for 85 yds., and 2 touchdowns, and Cunningham and Martin combined for 185 yds, on 9 catches and two scores receiving.
Keshawn Martin (82) stiff arms an Indiana defenseman on his way to his first touchdown of the day. (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
Out of seven offensive possessions in the first half, Michigan State never punted and converted four of them into touchdowns and two more as field goals.
It was an encouraging first half for Spartan fans who witnessed a similar start in the Iowa game the week prior.
Michigan State finally appears to be eluding their reputation of slow starts and their timing couldn’t be better.
Coming down the stretch, the Spartans look like they are finding their stride and playing their best football when it counts the most.
Michigan State did not relent in the 2nd half and added another score from both Baker and Cunningham and a pick-six by cornerback Johnny Adams.
By the games end, the Spartans had heard the news that Michigan had beaten Nebraska and that the first ever Big Ten Championship game would feature Michigan State without a doubt. It was great for the Spartans to have Michigan win and seal the division, but what was bigger was the fact that Michigan State didn’t need help from other teams – they were in control.
“You know Michigan had their own game. They won that’s cool,” Jerel Worthy said in a postgame interview. “But you know we just worry about Michigan State, the green and white, the Spartans – and we’re on our way. “
Kirk Cousins (8) celebrates with his fellow Spartans, his last game in Spartan Stadium (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
With good news after good news, Saturday almost seemed like a movie-script in East Lansing. It couldn’t have gone much better for the seniors who own the title of being the all-time win leaders as a class in MSU history. Now they have a chance to become Big Ten champions for the second straight year in addition to their other accolades that have happened and those that are still to come.
But with all the joy and success surrounding Spartan football, Northwestern awaits. Although it’s no longer a crucial game for Michigan State, it’s still important to the team.
“I just don’t want to lose a game, no matter what. Even if we’re going to Indianapolis.” Senior wide receiver, Keith Nichol, said after the game “We just want to go out there and get the win – add to the tally that we have as a senior class.”
Nichol was echoed by his coaches and teammates, stressing the culture change at MSU.
“We made a statement as a football program.” Coach Mark Dantonio said. “But the pressure still exists to finish and to play our best football near the end of the season. And that’s what we want to try and do.”
Keith Nichol (7) shares a moment with his family while the stadium honored the Spartan seniors (Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
Saturday marked the last game for the Spartan seniors in Spartan Stadium and went out in grand fashion.
“They’re doing great things. They’re doing things that haven’t been done for a long time here.” Dantonio said of the seniors. “And doing things that need to be done for the first time in this modern era of football—in this new Big Ten conference… This program is in great shape.”
After the game, captains, Cousins, Joel Foreman and Trenton Robinson all pointed to this game as being one of their fondest memories at their home field for the last four years.
“So much has happened since I stepped on campus. It’s gone by so fast,” Nichol said. “Just to see my family up there for the last time… was probably the toughest part – seeing all the fans in the student section. There’s no place like Spartan Stadium.”
(Photo by: Jon Coffey/isportsweb.com)
It’s a class that will be dearly missed by Spartan fans in the future, but one that will go down in the books as one of the greats and won’t be forgotten in MSU’s already storied history. Just remember that there is still a little room left to tell the rest of their story.